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University of Pittsburgh Invites Three Transphobes to Debate “Transgenderism”

The invitations contradict Pitt’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion initiatives

Updated March 22, 2023, at 10:11 am.

Three transphobes will be featured at the University of Pittsburgh in the coming weeks. Technically the University itself hasn’t invited these speakers. Two student groups – Pitt Republicans and a chapter of Turning Point USA – have organized the events.

First, the chapter of Turning Point USA has invited Cabot Phillips to speak at the Cathedral of Learning on March 24, conveniently during Pitt’s Pride Week. Philips is the former senior editor of Campus Reform, a self-described “conservative watchdog” for exposing “liberal bias and abuse on the nation’s college campuses.” He is the current senior editor of The Daily Wire, a disreputable right-wing media outlet founded by the notorious Ben Shapiro.

The Daily Wire and its many podcasts & shows propagate climate change denial, COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation, racism, homophobia, and transphobia. Approximately 93% of The Daily Wire’s advertisements have been transphobic in nature.

Consider the headlines of their online articles that cover transgender people, which Philips as the senior editor would have greenlighted: “Biden Admin Gives ‘International Women of Courage Award’ to a Biological Man,” “’Morally and Medically Appalling’: Gender Clinic Case Manager Blows Whistle on ‘Permanent Harm’ Done to Kids,” and “It Was Mutilation’: 5 Detransitioners Harmed by Medical Transition Speak Out In New Documentary.” Deliberate misgendering, overhyping the insignificant minority who detransition, and portraying gender-affirming healthcare as dangerous to children are common tactics on this site.

Philips’s Twitter promotes extreme media skepticism, political disinformation, fat-shaming, and sexist rhetoric. He blames all of modern America’s “moral degeneracy” on distancing from “traditional values,” a dogwhistle for the white supremacist cisheteropatriarchy. This is reflected in the articles he’s authored for The Daily Wire.

Second, Pitt’s Turning Point USA chapter has also invited Riley Gaines, a former NCAA swimmer, to speak at the O’Hara Ball Room on March 27. The event is titled “Saving Women’s Sports,” the same name as Gaines’s anti-trans advocacy program.

Since losing to Lia Thomas, Gaines has traveled around the country and made media appearances on behalf of trans-exclusive feminism. She’s claimed allowing trans women, who she refers to as “biological males,” to compete in women’s sports will result in the “systematic eradication of women.” She’s supported banning trans athletes from competing in sports matching their gender identity or from competition entirely.

Lastly, Pitt Republicans have organized a “Debate on Transgenderism and Womanhood” for April 18 between Michael Knowles, a political commentator for The Daily Wire and PragerU, and Deirdre McCloskey, a Harvard-educated trans woman. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a conservative thinktank, is backing the debate. Internet users had taken down the registration service for this event listing, but it appears to be back up. 

Knowles has made headlines recently for calling for “transgenderism [to] be eradicated from public life entirely” at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Amid fears that this was a call for genocide, Knowles defended himself by claiming trans people are “not a legitimate category of being” thus can’t be victims of genocide – as if that’s an adequate defense.

Transphobes like Phillips, Gaines, and Knowles do not recognize trans people as their gender. Their rhetoric, referring to us as adherents to “transgenderism” and “gender ideology” denying “biological sex,” rejects our autonomy over our own identities. They call us anything but our real names. They claim trans people existing as our authentic selves hurt Western civilization, women, and children through overexaggerations and lies. And Pitt welcomes their hatred onto their campus.  

Pitt students are circulating a petition demanding University of Pittsburgh’s administration protect the LGBTQ+ community by canceling the events. As the petition notes, permitting these events would be contrary to Pitt’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion initiatives as well as the CS 07 Nondiscrimination, Equal Opportunity, and Affirmative Action policy. The petition has so far amassed about 6,000 signatures.

Regardless, Pitt may not step in to cancel the events. A Pitt spokeperson told Pittsburgh City Paper that student organizations are allowed to invite anyone on campus in the name of free speech. He claimed these speakers are not a reflection of the institution’s values.

However, free speech should not tolerate hate speech. Some ideas are inherently uncivil and should not be given a platform. Entertaining “debates” about people’s right to exist devalues them below basic human respect. Dehumanizing people, attacking their identities, and spreading vile myths about them are as dangerous as direct calls to violence. It incentives discrimination, stigma, and crimes against an already vulnerable marginalized group.

This is especially dangerous in the current political climate that has normalized transphobia. State legislatures have introduced or passed over 400 anti-trans bills this year attacking gender-affirming healthcare, supportive families, drag shows, and LGBTQ+ books. House Republicans are planning to present HR 734, which would ban trans girls from school sports, and HR 5, granting parents the power to control public school curricula to squash education about people of color and queer folk.

Pitt’s guidelines do cover “peaceful counter-demonstrations,” so Pitt students and local queer organizations are planning protests at the events. The present is terrifying, yet trans people are not going down without a fight.

Alasdair (he/him & they/them) is the digital editor of QBurgh. He is a recent graduate of Chatham University with a BFA and a MA in Creative Writing. He grew up around Pittsburgh and now wishes to become involved with the local LGBTQ+ community. Through their writing, they hope to represent and advocate for queer people like himself.